KC Joyner's rules for 'getting over' in professional wrestling: Gaining respect as a heel

Ric Flair's reputation as the hardest working man in pro wrestling helped him gain the respect of fans despite being a top heel. B Bennett/Getty Images

The "Getting Over" series aims to detail the psychological rules that the world of pro wrestling has developed over the past 100 years.

Rule No. 2: A heel should get fans to respect some part of his character, as that will make them hate him even more.

Drawing heat from a crowd is a job requirement for a heel. For those wishing to go a step further, they need to follow the advice of wrestling legend Johnny Valentine.

Valentine, the father of former WWE superstar Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, was an all-time great heel and a man whom Ric Flair said he patterned himself after.

Flair wasn't the only wrestler to do this, as his fellow Four Horsemen member Tully Blanchard learned a very important heel lesson from Valentine. Blanchard said Valentine instructed him that if you can get fans to hate you and then make them respect you, it would make the fans hate you even more.

The reasoning behind this is fairly simple. If a heel can make fans respect him, the audience will want to like him but won't do so because of his underhanded tactics. That will frustrate the audience and make them even madder at his evil deeds.

Since heels aim to do anything to get fans to dislike them, how can they do that while also getting fans to respect them?

There are a number of paths they can take.

Being physically tough

Johnny Valentine gained respect from fans as a heel via his deliberate, brutal, hard-hitting matches. He sold every in-ring battle as a true fight by laying in his punches and chops as hard as possible and insisting that his opponent do the same. Valentine also avoided high spots or throwing his opponent into the ropes, as he figured those were things he or his opponent would never do if they got into an actual fight. This style required a slow-build approach to build interest, but once fans had a few weeks to get used to it, it allowed them to easily suspend disbelief in the faux battle and buy into the fact that Valentine was a legitimate tough guy who happened to be a heel.

The hardest working man in the business

In the case of Flair, one might wonder how fans could respect a man who bragged about having more money, bigger cars and prettier women than anyone and who would openly invite those pretty women on national television to come to the hotel The Four Horsemen were staying at (insisting they leave their boyfriends behind).

Flair earned that respect by being the hardest working man in the business. A look at his month-by-month match totals during his prime shows that Flair was working nearly every day of the week, an incredible pace given that he was traveling all over the world during his years as the NWA champion. He closed out so many of his matches with one-hour Broadways (contests that ended in a draw) that he became known as the 60-minute man. Flair was also a world-class clotheshorse and, therefore, could make fans believe it when he said he never wore the same suit twice. He wasn't quite the workout maven that Bob Backlund was, but Flair did stay in immaculate condition and never let even so much as one root of his naturally dark hair ever show. As Triple H once said, a lot of guys tried to make this type of character work, but no one ever did it as well as Flair, and the reason was he put in the effort necessary to make it work.

Walk slowly

Roddy Piper was so hated that he claimed to have been stabbed three times and shot at, yet he was able to earn respect because of his fearlessness. This trait showed up in his willingness to say or do anything, whether it was walking to the ring in a kilt, insulting Andre The Giant, smashing Jimmy Snuka in the face with a coconut or taking so many chain shots to the head in his Starrcade 1983 match against Greg Valentine that Piper legitimately lost a good portion of hearing in his left ear.

Piper also sold the fearless approach by the way he walked to the ring. He detailed this in a Piper's Pit podcast before his 2015 death by saying that he would always take his time when leaving the back and making his way through the crowd. Part of this was designed to give the announcer time to segue from whatever he was talking about into a discussion of Piper, but it was also designed to show the crowd that Piper had no fear. He figured fans recognized that a man who walks slowly is either really confident or really dangerous -- both traits that draw respect.

Speak your mind

For CM Punk, his open disrespect for fans, especially smart marks, should have caused those very fans to hate him. Yet they could not help but respect his unwavering adherence to kayfabe. Punk's infamous "pipe bomb" promo, where he expressed frustration over the state of wrestling and his WWE career, was the definition of a worked shoot (meaning it was a planned element designed to look like it was unscripted and happened unexpectedly), but there are those in the industry who think that Punk actually took some liberties in the promo and said things he wasn't supposed to utter. Whether or not that is true, the fact that fans believed Punk was breaking the script and speaking his mind resulted from his 100 percent commitment to kayfabe. It allowed fans to respect him even when Punk was incessantly bragging about being the best in the world.

An easier transition from heel to babyface

Notice a common denominator in all of these wrestlers? They were just as successful -- and in some cases even more successful -- as babyfaces as they were when they were heels.

Part of this has to do with the respect factor, making it a lot easier for these wrestlers to pull off the turn from heel to babyface. Without respect, the fans will only think negative thoughts about a wrestler and, therefore, won't be the least bit receptive to accepting the baby-face turn. If the fans respect the heel, they will not only be able to justify the turn, but will actually look forward to it.